Life Hacks to Survive (and Thrive!) this End of Year Giving Season

Estimated Read Time: 8 minutes

It’s the fourth quarter; time for nonprofit organizations to prepare for the wildest End of Year giving season that anyone has ever seen. We face a historic presidential election that could take weeks (or months) to determine a victor, a Supreme Court vacancy to fill, oh, and a global pandemic that threatens us all. To say nothing of market volatility, high unemployment, and a tenacious recession.

Stressed yet? Don’t be. Much — but not everything — is out of our control when it comes to fundraising. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared for everything that year-end might throw your way. 

So what can nonprofits do, right now, to raise money for their missions this year? Try these 10 Life Hacks to Survive (and Thrive!) this End of Year Fundraising Season:

Hack #1: Plan Backwards…start on 12/31 and work your way to today.

The last week of the calendar year is already well-recognized and positioned as a manufactured fundraising moment, which is why there’s no better time to ask your audience for year-end gifts. These sends should feature an organization’s most transactional messaging, along with tried and true fundraising tactics that ratchet up urgency (think: matching gift-giving challenges, countdown clocks, supporter record formats, and heightened volume — in fact, the highest volume of the year.) Start by planning out these fundraising sends. 

Next, map out your cadence on and around Giving Tuesday — this is yet another moment in which the calendar does the heavy lifting for you! So don’t forget to ask for money across channels and get your share of the giving pie!

Then, identify periods of time for short 48 hour giving campaigns between these two tentpoles. This allows you to create your own moments, carving out succinct windows for your email file to give. Doing so also creates opportunities to rest, engage, and cultivate your file between fundraising pushes.  

For example, a heavy fundraising cadence, naturally lends itself to a follow-up message of thanks, expressing gratitude for the generosity of your nonprofit’s community of supporters. 

Hack #2: Contingency Plans on Contingency Plans

Amid a global pandemic, a presidential election, erratic markets, wildfires on the west coast, and even more uncertainty, fundraisers have been thrown a multitude of curveballs. This year, in particular, we must be prepared for year-end campaign plans and copy to be living, breathing documents that can and should adapt to current events and the changing national and global mood. Will the outcome of the presidential election change your messaging framing based on your nonprofit’s mission? If COVID-19 wanes or worsens, or if a vaccine becomes available, how will that impact your overall fundraising strategy? If the economy crashes come the winter season, do you have a backup ask string cadence prepared? 

All of us should be armed with answers to these questions and contingency plans you can easily deploy. Rest assured, none of us know exactly what the future will hold. That means your nonprofit must be nimble and willing to adjust tactics and messaging as needed. 

Hack #3: Get Granular with Your Email Treatment Plans

No matter what email platform you employ, plan to use your tools to their fullest potential when it comes to message versioning. When drafting email copy, work backward from a “default” version and then identify other important segments that should receive custom-tailored language. Did a donor already give in your most recent fundraising campaign prior to year-end? Acknowledge that! Did a donor give in 2019, then fade away? Ask that supporter to renew his or her support! Would this be a subscriber’s first gift to your nonprofit? Let them know how crucial this first donation would be. Talking directly to each segment of your file increases the chances that your case for support is compelling, persuasive, and most importantly — heard.

Hack #4: Run Your Reports Early

During fourth-quarters-of-years-past, there was plenty of temptation to procrastinate: the holiday party, gift exchanges amongst coworkers or festive happy hours. There were more than adequate reasons to procrastinate on not-pressing-but-still-important items like reporting. The good news is that you can’t get together with colleagues this holiday season! Yay! No reason to procrastinate this year (smh). 

That means you can go ahead and start pulling those KPI reports 48-72 hours after you launch an email. If you’re planning to report to your organization’s stakeholders in 2021, you might as well start formatting those reports now. Then in January, you’ll be ready to present your full tally, complete with the detail, sourced down to the day.

Even better, you’ll be armed to the gills with high fidelity data that can inform your every decision this year-end.

Hack #5: Quality Assurance: What’s that?

Quality Control

Quality (ˈkwälədē); noun. The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.

Assurance (əˈSHo͝orəns); noun. A positive declaration intended to give confidence; a promise.

Put short; a promise of excellence. QA is the disciplined repeatable process of making sure that every marketing unit is perfect in every aspect prior to being put in the market.

To do this, you can create a “QA spreadsheet” that can be copied and iterated for all of your various outbound.

Make a note of ALL of the things to check for, put them in a list for a reviewer to then sign off on for each marketing unit.

It’s particularly important for email; because if there’s a mistake; once it’s sent there’s no turning back.

Screenshot of QA Spreadsheet

Hack #6: Prioritize Your Segments + Channels

Before you can make the most out of any appeal, particularly End of Year, you should be sure to understand all of your relevant and reachable audiences, the channels in which you can reach them, the budget and capacity limits that constrain your effort, and the goals for your organization as it relates to each audience segment.

For example, you might prioritize your mid and major donors with additional stewardship phone calls in November. You might want to fold them into the latter part of the email appeal in December and potentially target with ads. But before that, an organization might also send a letter from the CEO.

Alternatively, for the non-donors on your email file for whom an organization has a physical mailing address, an organization might run a panel test in direct mail, where half of that cohort receives the email appeal and additional direct mail appeal notice while the other half receives the appeal over email only. This could help the organization understand the efficacy of the direct mail notice to that cohort against the costs associated with mailing them.

Everywhere in between are other segments of your universe to consider for your fourth quarter efforts. Especially this year, in the age of the Covid-Era Donor. For all of those segments, you’ll want to “vertically integrate” them. This is just a fancy term for considering the cadence of touchpoints for each of your audiences comprehensively across all channels.

An example of this would be if you were emailing an audience that was included in your direct mail effort, and there was a chance that your email appeal went to people within an audience who’s “check is in the mail,” an organization could include a PS to the email to the effect of, “If this email crossed paths with your donation in the mail, we’re sorry about that, and THANK YOU!”

This way, you can feel good about not upsetting recent donors, while still appealing to important audiences that have yet to give.

Hack #7: Get the Most Out of Your Matches

In a perfect world, we would all have sufficient matching gift funds — but most of us don’t inhabit this planet. Instead, we have to juice the greatest impact out of a limited pool of dollars. To get the biggest bang for your match bucks, parcel these double-gift offers out strategically, and be careful not to blitz through your entire pot at the outset of the giving season.

Decide up-front what portion of your match funds to allocate to Giving Tuesday, the final week of the year, and, if possible, a mid-month flash promotion. Use last year’s numbers to guide this estimate, to avoid drastically over-raising your match threshold on bumper days and missing the mark during fundraising lulls. Gif of equations

Finally, don’t forget to make the terms of these matches crystal clear. If you only have $20,000 to parcel out on Giving Tuesday, say so in your email and donate page. In moments like this, don’t fear fine print for an extra layer of transparency, spelling out the exact match amount with expiration date and time,


Hack #8: Plan Out Your Naming Conventions 

As boring as it might sound, standardizing your naming conventions for items like list segments, email draft numbers, tracking parameters, donation form id numbers, ad units, and more can help you stay organized. Plus, when it’s time to report back on these results, you can feel confident in what you’re looking at. So instead of naming your email: “Holiday 2020 eCardversion2-ceosigned-editDONORversion” call it: “EOY 2020 Campaign: Cultivation Email 2 (pm send) – Mid-Level Donor Version”.

Hack #9: Use a Project Management + Communication Software

Communication is key to a successful year-end! Between coordinating approvals, building emails, drafting copy, and more, a campaign consists of many moving parts (and many people moving them!). It’s no small task to keep yourself and your team organized, delegate responsibilities among the group, and ensure all pieces come together and move forward. Thankfully, there are many resources to help! 

Project management software allows you to dole out assignments and gives you the satisfaction of “checking off” an item on your to-do list. You then are able to notify others once a given task is complete. This can be useful when team members are waiting on you to complete a task before they can proceed onto the next step. There are a lot of other project management platforms that an organization could try, some are even free, like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Monday or Wrike.

Hack #10: Work with Media Cause

We usually have a spreadsheet, template, or workaround for whatever you might want a helping hand to accomplish. We would love to work together! 

Whether it be it Giving Tuesday strategy, digital ad deployment, or the final end-of-year effort that needs an edge, we’re here to help. (Check out our End of Year giving packages here.) Don’t hesitate to reach out for a conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn and have a safe and productive fourth quarter!

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